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Ghost in the Cell

Brooding, unshaven, tactical death machine. A hammer, a ghost. You are Sam Fisher. This is over-the-top espionage.

America is under threat from a terrorist organisation known as, the Engineers. Towards the beginning of the adventure their objectives are shrouded in mystery, but they are brashly declaring war on US homeland and they have published their 5 step self-help plan to success, called the Blacklist.

Sam is given a flying HQ, an enormous aircraft, to cruise around the globe in with his unit, Echelon 4. Your task, to discover what US targets are next on the Blacklist. You are accompanied by a gadget techie, lets call him Q, a female intel operative from SC:Conviction who helps direct your flow around the field, lets call her M and a new CIA trained guy to help you out in the heavy hitting firefights, or if you want someone to do some Co-op missions with. We will call him Briggs, because thats his name.

Every good spy story needs to send the protagonist around the globe, to wonderful foreign locations, where the plot will inch forward. And this is how all real gamers choose their summer holiday destinations. Of course, we spend our whole relaxing trip, looking over our shoulder or thinking the waiter is trying to poison us. But one day they will be and then who is going to still be alive? Me, thats who. Sam visits a few great locations, including the in vogue spy destination, the UK. Awesome! A couple of other locations include, Libya’s Benghazi, Russia’s Grozny and Yemen’s Sana’a to name a few.

This version of Splinter Cell is aimed at all gamers. Both newcomers to the series and fans of the various earlier titles. Splinter Cell: Conviction, Blacklist’s predecessor introduced some new instant takedown moves, which fans embraced. As you competently dispatched the enemy you would build your “execute” meter, which, upon use, would insta-kill up to 3 tagged enemy. This feature is still in and will be heavily used by the player. Get up close to an enemy and you can almost always press a button to completely disable a target before they even have time to say, “sorry I’m a bad man”.

Altogether Sam and his arsenal pack a mean punch from the shadows, but its the fact that you can kit Sam up with Kevlar and leave the shadows, which allows a variety of gamer play-styles, that opens the title up to more people.

Blacklist categorises your actions throughout a mission into three groups, Ghost (No one knows you exist), Panther (Sneaky killer) and Assault (In-your-face killer with flash bangs, grenades and assault rifles). However, the game rewards the player more for operating like a Ghost rather than Assault and its actually easier to play as Panther over Assault, because Sam’s outflank & takedown skills are incredibly effective. But as is normal with Blacklist, the game lets you choose your approach as and when the mood takes you. You can select your loadout at the beginning of a mission and by swapping between your chosen weapons you can switch your approach as the need or whim calls for it.

Its nice to rappel into your combat zone, drop on an enemy for an instant stealth kill, then throw his body over the edge of the building. After a short while you may hear one of his fellow guards say something like “Luigi hasnt checked in. I’m going to see if everything is ok. Come with me”. And two of them will start to head in the direction where Luigi was last heard from. You tag them, while hidden behind a low wall, and when in range you step out. With a single button press, vwwwwoooooom, you slow motion insta-kill both of them before they can react. Now you grab their bodies and pop them into a large bin for sneaky safe keeping. Now its time for action. You swing your assault rifle off your back, to replace your silenced handgun. There are only two guys around the corner and you decide, its their turn to run and hide. Grenade thrown, you charge in guns-a-blazing.

This all reminds me of how Hitman Blood Money makes you feel. You are an unstoppable killing machine and although you are meant to be invisible, sometimes its nice to change things up and show the enemy goons that you have huge guns, as well as stealthy gadgets and a slinky all-in-one.

Continuing alongs it path of global acceptance, Blacklist is not just about a linear story experience. It wants you to call the shots. You get to decide where your attention will best serve your cause, from the comfort of your mobile, military grade, HQ. You can walk around and talk to some of your staff or passengers. They can offer up potential operation, a side mission that may offer up some extra kit.

As you complete your missions, depending on how stealthy you were, you are paid a bucket load of dollars, which you can spend on upgrading your field kit and the plane itself. This is a great new concept for the series, that is obviously borrowed from the other Ubi super-series, Assassins Creed. The idea being that your actions across a broader aspect of the game can positively impact your player on the more zoomed in mission aspects of the game. Thus creating a depth of purpose to the world and provide continuity from one mission to the next.

The problem seems that if you are too stealthy too often then you will get paid a lot of money and it wont be long before you have the kit you want and this of course starts to make the amassing money start to feel pointless. But there are quite a few things to spend your money on, like a crossbow that can fire noise emitting bolts.

The main storyline is fine, if a little obvious. But the production of the title is tight, which means it flows together logically as you move between missions. Annoyingly the transition load times on console can leave you with an itchy trigger finger, and satisfyingly the PC version enjoys a more seamless load experience.

To try and mix things up the game does occasionally move away from the stealth options altogether, having you Run-and-Gun when you sometimes take control of Briggs in the campaign. But again, Blacklist tries to be inclusive, often allowing you to Co-op many of the missions, in case your buddy has just dropped by for a gaming session.

The Co-op feature works great, whether played on one machine or over the net and it can really add some sense of shared accomplishment when you tag-and-takedown your way around a map.

How long does it take Sam and his crew to play through Blacklist? If he doesnt muck about then you are looking at a steady nine or ten hours. But there are lots of side missions and Co-op to jump in and out of as often as you like. These can certainly increase the games play time. Blacklist allows you to replay previously completed missions and if you want you can try them on different difficulty levels, even switching difficulty settings on-the-fly through a mission that is proving too difficult.

Thats not to mention the time you can get from Blacklist multiplayer.

Spies Vs Mercs is the multiplayer aspect of Blacklist and you can access this at any time from your command plane. I am a little surprised to say just how enjoyable this part of the game is. Often tacked on to stealth games, this part of the game, in contrast, offers some novel multiplayer experiences for those of you who havent tried a stealth-em-up multiplayer game before.

Blacklist’s compilation of multiplayer match ups are among some of the best examples of online competitive human vs human stealth battles available. There are counter gadgets and interesting weapons available to each side, whether you are playing as the technically efficient spies or the hard hitting mercs. The balance of each match seems well delivered on the whole, with a few spy upgrades, which lead you to feel that the game is all about being a spy and therefore spies are rewarded a little more in multiplayer. There is a new Blacklist multiplayer mode and a player can use money earned in the core of the game to upgrade their available multiplayer tool set, so it pays to play.

In terms of Blacklists hardware requirements we will be running a series of PC benchmark tests to help you know what you will likely get from your PC, so keep a lookout for those. On Console Splinter Cell Blacklist actually looked pretty good. Much better than the recent Saints Row 4, whose engine looked visually tired, further confirming the "ageing console" debate.

For a few, Blacklist will ultimately annoy, as it tries to court everyones tastes rather than focusing on one direction with conviction. But thats just for a few people. For everyone else, Blacklist is a big budget, stealth-em-up that delivers story, co-op and multiplayer with confidence. It lets the player pick the type of game they want to play, based on their mood at the time. And that’s quite an achievement. Blacklist will bring in new fans, please the majority of us and piss off a few. Altogether a great experience, you can’t go wrong with. Unless you get pissed off. 

Its Hammer Time